Timing to continue its recent top-end success, ATI has released the Radeon HD 5870. It's soon to be followed by a dearer card - a twin-GPU X2 variant looks likely - and the HD 5850.
The HD 5870 is the first DirectX 11 and Shader Model 5 part. We'll put that to the test when games start arriving, but for now its main competition is ATI's own HD 4000 range.
It's a 40nm GPU, down from the 55nm of the HD 4870, and it doubles that card's stream processor count to 1600 while increasing the transistor count to 2.15 billion. The core clock sits at 850MHz and there's 1GB of GDDR5 memory at 1200MHz, and it's pretty similar in size and bulk to the X2 cards.
ATI claims an idle power draw of 27W, rising to 188W under load. In our Core i7-920 test rig with 4GB of DDR3 and a 7200rpm hard disk, we measured a full system load of 120W idle and 252W hot. Best of all, though, the HD 5870 only requires two six-pin power connectors.
The only benchmark to really push the Radeon was Crysis, and even then not much: gaining 66fps at 1600 x 1200 with high settings; 44fps at 1920 x 1200 and very high; and even 31fps at the highest resolution our CRT monitor could manage - 2058 x 1536. So we shifted to a 30in 2560 x 1600 TFT, kept maximum settings and it still managed a credible 24fps.
That brings us to ATI's Eyefinity - the multi-monitor capability supported by this family of cards. It's still going to be a push to tile six TFTs as in ATI's demo - and we're not convinced it makes the experience a great deal better than one large TFT - but it's now a real possibility.
Standard cards have two DVI outputs, plus HDMI and DisplayPort, and ATI will also be making a limited number of its Eyefinity6 Edition with six outputs.
So how does it compare? The Crysis scores are miles ahead of any single-GPU card, with 44fps in our very-high test eclipsing the 29fps of the HD 4890.
But it's also faster than dual-GPU cards: the HD 4870 X2 managed only 35fps. It's faster and more efficient than the HD 4870 X2, and only a little more expensive. Until the X2 version arrives, the HD 5870 is the new benchmark for enthusiast gamers. David Bayon